Vintage Car Life Road Test: 1961 Chevrolet Impala 348 V8 With Turboglide – “A Triumph Of Contemporary American Car Design”

The CC – Car Life time machine is a bit stuck in 1961, so let’s take a look at what they had to say about America’s favorite car for quite some years. But in this case, it’s equipped with the ill-fated Turboglide, an ambitious automatic transmission that had no less than three turbines in its torque converter, creating essentially a hydraulic CVT; a seamless flow of power from standstill to top speed.

Presumably the Turboglide’s smoothness was a contributing factor to Car Life’s calling it “a triumph of contemporary American car design”. Nowadays, we might tend to apply that more to the ’61 Chevy’s styling. Actually, Car Life said very little about that aspect of the Impala.

I am not going to try to describe the actual complicated workings of the Turboglide (and very similar Buick Flight-Pitch Dynaflow, renamed “Triple Turbine” in 1959); instead I will direct you to Ate Up With Motor’s most excellent treatise on the subject. And I will admit now that I cannot absorb and retain all of the details, which are many. But in a nutshell, it’s sort of the ultimate Dynaflow/Powerglide, inasmuch as the triple turbines allow for an extremely wide range of torque multiplication (4.30:1 to 1.00:1) without any actual mechanical “shifts”. That quite strong torque multiplication at stall was more than the Powerglide in Low, and the result was that the 348-powered Impala had lots of wheelspin in the acceleration tests.

That’s not to say that with the very mildly-tuned 250 hp version of the 348, the Impala was a rocket. 0-60 came in 10.8 seconds, and the 1/4 mile came in 17.2 @79 mph. That was a well-powered car for the times, but not a hot rod. That would call for one of the “hot” 348s and the four speed manual transmission.

Car Life mentioned that the power (drum) brakes in the Impala were the exception to the rule in not being over-boosted. More typically, the power steering was “devoid of road feel”. Car Life recommended skipping it “for anyone intending to exploit this car’s high-speed cruising ability.”

As to handling, Car Life as with its numb power steering, it simply did not encourage high speed driving in curves, to the point where CL just plain refused to push it to its limits, as they didn’t want to possibly wreck it. “With the Chevrolet, you can go fast enough without exceeding this margin…your own intestinal fortitude (or lack of it) becomes the limiting factor long before the twistiness of the road”.  Well said, for a Chevy of this era without suspension upgrades. And CL pointed out that those are available, starting with wider (6″) wheels to help the soft tires of the times from rolling under, an all-too common issue back then with the narrow wheels and undersized tires.


A feature of the Turboglide was the “Grade Retarder”, to provide engine braking which was previously just not a thing with these. But it came on very aggressively, but only at speeds below 40 mph. Very much recommended in the mountains.


CL points out the wide range of engines and transmissions available on the ’61 Chevy, having been a pioneer in offering a 4-speed manual. In addition to the narrow ratio (2.20:1 first) version as used in the Corvette, a wide ratio version with a 2.54:1 first was now also available (it became available in the Corvette too). It was a better choice except for more serious competition work.

As to quality of fit, finish and general workmanship, CL felt that Chevrolet “has been able to reconcile mass production better than many of its competitors.

The result, combined with all of the power accessories, “gave the impression that, unless you noticed the the nameplate before entering, you could just as easily be riding in one of GM’s more expensive offerings instead of one of the least”. That does explain better than any other single thing, the huge popularity of the big Chevy. It was a lot closer to a Cadillac than Cadillac would like you to think.

Postscript: The Turboglide was available from 1957-1961. In addition to its complex system of three turbines, it also had an aluminum case, which made it lighter than a Powerglide. This case turned out to be one of the various issues that led to the TG’s demise, along with other internal problems that resulted in a high rate of warranty claims. But the aluminum case would reappear in 1962 in the PG with success, and there were other elements of the TG that would appear in subsequent GM automatics. But the TG and Buick Triple Turbine would be the end of the road that started back in 1947 with the original Dynaflow, in using torque converters as the sole means of torque multiplication. The future was clearly in three-speed automatics with a torque converter.


Related reading:


Ate Up With Motors “Turboglide and Flight Pitch Dynaflow”

The Chevrolet “W” 348 (and 409) Engine – First Of A Long Line Of Big-Block Chevy V8s